what is to become of canada?

I’m sure you were all glued to your pirated CBC News broadcast Monday night, watching the election tallies (they come in so fast, Wolf Blitzer wouldn’t have even warmed up his vocal chords before it was all over). And of course, by now you know that the Conservative Party won a majority of seats in Parliament, cementing their rule for the next four years.

Quick quiz: Name the Prime Minister!

Excellent! Yes, Stephen Harper will continue to be Prime Minister, but unlike his last two terms, all the policies that the Conservatives like (corporate tax breaks, reduced social services, etc.) will have enough votes to pass. So, now the same political mechanisms that allowed Liberals to decriminalize homosexuality and legalize same-sex marriage* while the Conservatives were powerless to object, will be available to the Conservatives.

I wonder, given this rather unchecked power, what their strategy will be? Will they go for it and deregulate industry, cut the CBC budget, and undermine universal health care immediately, because now is their chance? I doubt it. Harper’s strategy has been very moderate, with targeted cuts aimed at immigrants and women’s services combined with more progressive items like a cut in sales tax. Judging from his past, he is not a moderate himself, but has been committed to building a broad appeal among Canadians for the Conservative Party (which, as we saw last night, has been very effective). I don’t think he will do anything that will be a direct affront to Canadian values like privatizing health care, but I do think he will nibble away at the social safety net, trim bureaucracies to the point where they are ineffective, and cut regulations wherever he can, in a Reaganesque sort of way.

My big worries are this. First, that this plan will work to convince Canadians that Conservatives really are more fiscally responsible, reliable and trustworthy than any of the parties on the left, creating a permanent shift in the Canadian center akin to what happened in the United States since Reagan. Second, I worry that Harper’s policies will put Canada on the path of growing inequality, which Canadians have been largely, but not entirely, shielded from over the last several decades. Both of these things are likely if Harper plays his cards right.

A much happier scenario is that Canadian values remain rather left-ish (by this I mean relative only  to the US, of course) and community-minded, and Conservative policies that come out over the next four years will be distasteful enough to shake Canadians back to their senses and vote the bums out. Or, the four parties on the left find a way to convert their 60% of Canadian voters into a political body that can govern the country. I don’t find either of these likely, but I am willing to be pleasantly surprised.

Other stories about the election are also fascinating. See the collapse of Quebec’s Separatist Party, the massive growth of the NDP, and the first Green Party MP. I know the joke is that Canadian politics are boring, but that just isn’t the case this time around.

*Those were 36 years apart, in case you wondered: 1969 and 2005.

3 thoughts on “what is to become of canada?”

  1. Interesting post. It was an unexpectedly fascinating few weeks. The entire political landscape of Canada changed during what initially seemed like a pointless and irrelevant election.

    As you suggest, this wild election may be the harbinger of a two-party political system in Canada. I’m not sure the Liberal Party will be amenable to a merger yet, given that they’ve governed for about ~70% of Confederation, and as per the recent Chrétien/Martin Liberal governments, there should still be a strong fiscal conservative contingent in the party (like Clinton, they campaigned on the left, but governed on the right). Perhaps the Conservative Party has attracted away this contingent, which may explain in part why the Liberal Party found themselves squeezed out last night.

    While the result (Harper majority) left me disappointed, it was pretty amazing to observe an election that even in an era of frequent polling and abundant information, left pretty much everybody surprised, including the politicians themselves:

    – Slightly after 10PM last night in the CBC chat, when the polls started coming in, former Harper strategist Tom Flanagan said that the Conservatives thought that a majority was only “barely” a possibility.

    – The NDP ran numerous “placeholder” candidates in Quebec who ended up winning, including undergraduate students, and the (in)famous woman from Ottawa who spent much of the campaign in Las Vegas, and can’t speak French (a small problem in a Francophone riding!). Jack Layton now has an interesting organizational challenge of dealing with many new and inexperienced politicians, and transitioning from perennial third party to being the government in-waiting.

    – One month ago, I’m pretty sure Duceppe didn’t foresee the obliteration of his party.

    – Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff triggered this election in the first place, which resulted in the worst showing by the Liberal Party ever and the end of his political career. I think he ran a good campaign, but the “Orange Wave” NDP cascade triggered in Quebec got the rest of the country just wet enough to cost the Liberals a lot of seats. The growth of the NDP only yielded 8 new seats outside of La Belle Province, but cost the Liberals many more, and by extension, helped bring about the Conservative majority.

    Also, the $3 million ignatieff.me website and campaign was a very effective piece of swiftboating by the Conservatives. Expatriates and academics running for office beware!

    Ignatieff now is planning to return to academia: “I’m a teacher, born and bred, and I’m really looking forward to teaching. No offers yet; no reasonable offers refused.” That’s an awfully common sentiment in a tight academic job market!


  2. I wonder whether Tyrone Benskin will make good on his campaign promise to blot out the sun over Montreal.


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